By Christopher Blackadder
From the June 2019 Issue
Gone are the days of what we know as the “traditional workplace.” Today’s workers operate within city offices, homes, coffee shops and on-the-go. Employee autonomy and technology adjustments are key for any business to understand and succeed. As we move into a more mobile and autonomous lifestyle with overall work/life/play balance more integrated, there are questions to ask: What role will the office play? With co-working as the new norm, what is next? Is work what we do, not where we go; and will we go back to “work”?
In conjunction with technological advances transforming workplaces, we’re seeing the evolution of big data driving design decisions across many platforms. Lately, end-user and mega property management firms are increasingly bringing on architects and designers within their internal teams to support their needs and those of their clients. Google, Airbnb, LinkedIn, and others are tailoring work environments to the needs of the business. Large organizations, such as CBRE and WeWork, doing their own thing has also caused a degradation of services required by the architect. The ability of these groups to pay highly and offer lucrative benefits encourages the move from traditional architecture and design across to the “client side.” The difference, however, comes with the art of design and workplace architecture, with the architects highly focused on the worker and tailoring to them, whereas architecture on the client side in recent years had focused on dollars per square foot and density gains. As we experience this shift, we can wonder how this affects design, which is a better approach, and whether both are required for the best result.
There is a widening gap between the newer data/client-driven method versus the architect insight method of managing projects within an organization. And what is happening in-between allows clients to have a real understanding of place, culture, and growth potential. In many cases, big data is gathered at the expense of the human experience and focuses on the one firm or business too closely; ideas often cycle for too long and lack fresh thought. Without outside experience, internal resources rely heavily on past experience.
For architects, a thoughtful understanding of the client and determination of their needs has always been the basis for any exercise. Determining the optimum human-centric angles and understanding of needs for an individual, group, or organization still needs attention from someone with experience and skill. This is often determined with objective outside opinions in discussion with those within the organization. If well-coordinated, the collaboration of clients and architects can create high performing results.
The benefit to commissioning an outside architect still prevails when considering the range of project experience an architect acquires outside the confines of one organization’s needs. Field trips, visits, and reading only give partial information to help understand trends in industries and their suitable application. The traditional, more empathetic design approach is still certainly valued, but the data and ability to get it so quickly can inform very well—whether it should drive the decisions is key to the debate. Perhaps one day, architects and designers within the large end-user and property management firms will oversee drafting and project execution.
One point of reference and experience often left out of consideration is the team already on site and engaged with the daily operation and process of running the workplace: the facility team. Facility leaders and their teams often have the most intimate knowledge of space and are a great partner for the project team to understand the building and space. The facilities team will ultimately manage the space and should be a key part of the team for solution development.
Each member of a diverse, educated project team should be valued equally and given the opportunity to engage and influence the project. This engagement, undertaken on more of a blockchain-like approvals process versus a linear one, then drives solutions to be developed more concurrently, quickly, and expertly. The diverse mix of culture and sectors influencing any project has complicated the design process, but it has also opened it up to the most constructive criticism and a period of rich development that has been long needed.
Blackadder is managing director and serves as part of the executive leadership team at FORGE, a full-service architectural and interior design firm based in San Francisco, CA. Overseeing operations within the firm’s interiors division, he works with clients to create alignment and deep understanding of their needs and goals to create environments that not only achieve stakeholder objectives, but also set them up for current success and future uses.
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